A performance expert at Edge Hill University has released a new book that delves into the untouched histories of the trailblazing performers who pioneered drag culture.
Dr Mark Edward, a Reader in Creative Arts and a former drag performer himself, has co-edited Drag Histories, Herstories and Hairstories: Drag in a Changing Scene vol 2, which brings together academics, performers and activists from around the globe to uncover the history of drag performance.
The book, co-edited by Dr Stephen Farrier, Reader in Theatre and Performance at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, explores how drag has continuously pushed boundaries to become a political and cultural practice.
Dr Edward said: “We want to re-orientate the field to explore the historical non-mainstream and experimental practices that aren’t as visible in contemporary drag culture but paved the way for modern performers to follow. In the book, we were keen to acknowledge that there are drag histories that aren’t visible for different reasons, whether it was down to homophobia, or they were concealing that part of their life because of the era they lived in. A lot of drag stories have gone unrecorded and we want this book to acknowledge those people whose role in drag culture has been overlooked.
“Drag should not be one fixed thing, it’s a continually evolving art that should constantly strive to challenge and be a disruptor. In the book, we celebrate the lesser known pioneering work of performers who have broken down barriers to influence drag culture around the world.”
One of Dr Edward’s best-known pieces of work is the 2012 immersive arts installation and film Council House Move Star, a research piece of performance featuring his alter ego Miss Gale Force that explores the ethos of the working-class hero or heroine. He has also worked with the iconic American performance artist and activist Penny Arcade.
In his latest work, he highlights the distinction between historic drag practices and contemporary drag culture that is showcased on television programmes such as RuPaul’s Drag Race.
He added: “RuPaul and his girls have catapulted the drag scene into popular culture and I think it’s important to remember that this is only one lens of drag culture. Back in the eighties when I started out as a 16-year-old, I had to learn my drag on the stage from drag mothers/mentors. I wasn’t able to go on my laptop and watch a tutorial on how to do my make-up and style my wigs and tuck. I was taught everything and it was an embodied process, almost a living archive passing knowledge from one generation to the next.”
Drag Histories, Herstories and Hairstories: Drag in a Changing Scene follows on from Dr Edward and Dr Farrier’s first book Contemporary Drag Practices and Performers: Drag in a Changing Scene vol 1, which explores the philosophy and practice of current drag and its place in society today.
Both front cover images were painted by artist Mark Wardel, known for creating striking masks of David Bowie, some of which were bought by the star himself.
Drag Histories, Herstories and Hairstories: Drag in a Changing Scene, published by Bloomsbury’s Methuen Drama Engage, is on sale now.